The food culture of southern Louisiana is the result of a diverse mix of cultural influences over hundreds of years. Classic dishes such as gumbo and jambalaya have come to be emblematic of the state’s rich bayou culture. However, even though Louisianan cuisine has come to be some of the most easily recognized throughout the country, many still confuse the area’s two main culinary classes: Cajun and Creole. While both types of food (and culture) are found in the southern part of Louisiana known as Acadiana, there are distinct differences between the two. In an effort to gain a better understanding of American food and culture on the whole, let’s dive into the pertinent differences between Cajun and Creole dishes in southern Louisiana.
Le Grand Derangement
The origin of the Cajun/Creole distinction can be found in the history of the people of Louisiana. The southern parishes of that state are known as Acadiana because the people who originally settled there were known as the Acadians. This group was made up of the French settlers in the far northern territories of North America such as New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. When the British came into those lands, they forced all the French speakers out. The French fled south to the fertile grounds of southern Louisiana.
City vs. Country
From “Acadian” comes the word “Cajun.” This etymology also represents the development of the Cajun culture, especially the food. These people lived off the land, and thus their food came to be known as the down-home country cooking of the area. Meanwhile French and Spanish aristocrats were moving to New Orleans in large numbers. Their children who were born in the colonies of Louisiana were known as Creoles. As such, the food prepared in the kitchens of these wealthy citizens came to bear the name as well.
The more urbane connotations of Creole food is the result of greater access to ingredients. This has led to the classic test of Creole/Cajun cooking: The tomato test. On the whole, Creole food has tomatoes, while Cajun food does not. While there are some exceptions to this rule, by and large, you can always tell whether it is Cajun or Creole based on whether or not there are tomatoes in the dish.
The culture and history of Louisiana is marked by its mixture of influences from French, Spanish, German and Italian immigrants. Today, one can see all these influences in the many dishes that are native to that region.